it all began with boys we loved

A long, long time ago, back when I was entering the ninth grade, one of the things I most looked forward to about entering high school was finally being allowed to attend Friday night football games with my friends, without my parents lurking somewhere in the stadium, keeping an eye on me. In Alpena, Michigan in the 1990’s it was a big deal to be able to join your friends in the student section of the bleachers on Friday nights, and the first game carried a particular importance – it was the day you picked spot – the place you would watch games the rest of your time in high school. Very few of my friends at the time were interested in football and those that were also happened to be in the marching band, so I couldn’t sit with them. I was a little nervous,that first Friday, to arrive alone – but my parents encouraged me to go ahead – they said I’d find people to sit with, and of course they were right. Before even purchasing my ticket, I ran into my friend Jessica and together she and I braved the crowds of juniors and seniors to find our spots. We ended up almost exactly in the middle of the student section, near several friends from our French and biology classes, and for four years we watched the boys we grew up with play against other small-town northern Michigan teams. As far as I know, none of the boys that I watched play football throughout those years grew into a violent man – in fact, many of them were and remain today some of the gentlest souls I know.

Yes, I hung out with the football players in high school, and while this association conjures up all sorts of cliches thanks to movies and television, it wasn’t because I was absurdly popular or a cheerleader or anything like that – in a small town roles are more malleable than that. I fell into friendships with football players in the usual way – my best friend began dating one of them, and then Jessica began dating another, and while throughout my tenure at Alpena High School I only (and briefly) dated one football player, they became my friends, part of my gang, so to speak.

I mentioned it earlier but it bears repeating: these boys were some of the most gentle I have ever met, off the field. Most of them were raised to be good Catholic kids who took their religion and their families seriously. A number of them are still active in the church, a smaller number of them heavily so. They weren’t rule breakers and they rarely challenged authority – when I spent time at their houses there parents were always home, just like mine were when they came over.

When I attended our high school football games, I wasn’t cheering on strangers – I was rooting for my friends – for the quarterback who completed a shared read-aloud Macbeth assignment with me, for the linebacker in my church confirmation class.

For many of us, a love of football all began with the boys we loved.

Football, perhaps more than most other sports, is about so much more than the game itself. When I was in high school it was also about the hot buttery popcorn and frothy hot chocolate served at the concession stand, and the ebb and flow of hundreds of teenage bodies absorbed sometimes in the game but mostly in each other, and it was about frosted nights beneath the stars and lights and the majority of the town’s activity centered in this one particular corner for a couple of particular hours. Football games were generally parent-approved and teacher-regulated, yet a certain amount of freedom could be found in taking a walk with someone around the field or congregating in the parking lot prior to and after the game. Most of the time the high school sponsored a casual post-game dance where whatever energy we didn’t expend in the bleachers or on the field could be danced off before going home.

My interest in football has ebbed and flowed over the years depending on where I lived and what I was doing. In college I spent a number of Saturdays tailgating and attending Michigan State University football games with my friends, but I was just as likely to have play rehearsal or a test to study for – even a rare trip to the mall for dinner and a movie could lure me away from a football game. I’ve never been a huge follower of the NFL or, for that matter, any professional sports team except for the Detroit Tigers, but when I moved to Pittsburgh it was nearly impossible to avoid paying attention to the Steelers, and even if I didn’t watch every game, I had a husband and a brother who did and over the years I grew accustomed to football Sundays (and Mondays and sometimes even Thursdays). Again, football is more than the sum of its parts and it in Pittsburgh it is a regular part of our daily conversation – not just the game but what we ate who we were with the games we played the fun we had together.

There is an ocean of difference between the game I grew up with and the culture promoted by the NFL now. The concussion issues over the last few years muddied the waters for me considerably when it came to considering whether or not I want my children exposed regularly to professional football in our home, but watching the video of Ray Rice beat his fiance complicated matters even further. While I don’t hold the NFL directly responsible for Rice’s actions, I do think, as an organization, it has shown over and over again how little it values the health of its players and their families, coupled with the glorification of a violent and egocentric subculture. If I don’t allow reality television shows like “Keeping up with the Kardashians” and The Real Housewives of whatever in our home because of the self-centered, damaging values they promote, then why would I allow NFL football?

Sam and I have talked back and forth about it (for the record, he is as conflicted as I am) and for now we’ve settled on keeping our relationship with NFL football pretty casual. We aren’t adverse to turning a game and watching part of it, but football will not become the center of our Sundays.

Every year, a bunch of the guys I went to high school with meet up the Friday after Thanksgiving to play football. Even though we are all heading toward forty, they wouldn’t miss this annual rematch anymore than they would miss Thanksgiving dinner itself. For several years in my late twenties and early thirties, I would meet up with several of them and their various girlfriends and wives at a restaurant in Alpena the Saturday evening after their great rematch, where they would replay the game for us, often sporting bruised ribs, black eyes and sometimes worse. Over garlic bread pooled in butter, steaming platters of chicken nachos, chilled martinis and drafts of beer, our reunion conversations always started first with that Saturday’s game, and then circled back a decade to games of the past until eventually moving to current topics at hand – family, friends, how much has and hasn’t changed in our hometown. I almost always spend my Thanksgivings in Pittsburgh now, but when I think about football, this is what I recall: Friday nights in my hometown, taking the first steps toward the woman I’ve been lucky enough to become, huddling in the stands,cheering on the boys we loved.

Advertisements

Throw back thursday: A bullet post!

*Well, I started writing this on a Thursday, at any rate…
Sometimes, on my old blog, which I really need to do something about sometime soon, when I couldn’t choose a blog topic to write about in a timely fashion, I went the way of the bullet post, a form I always enjoyed when other bloggers used it. This morning, as I sipped my coffee and pondered what to write I realized my indecision made for a perfect Thursday bullet post! It’s been a while but I am just going to write bullets until I run out of things to say today!

* On Reading – I’m still reading Peter Straub’s Mr. Xwhich I like just enough to keep reading but not enough to read quickly, and yet I urgently want to finish it so I can start Gone Girl before the movie comes out because I have actual plans – in the evening, on a weekend, no less – to go see this movie with my girlfriends, and they have all read the book. I want to be on the same page so we can discuss all the things with them. The difference between one child and two? The year Evangeline was born I still managed to read nearly 30 books. This year I’ve read six and will maybe hit ten. Maybe. If Gone Girl is fast and I get my hands on the new Tana French novel. I’m hopeful the pace will pick up a bit in 2015.

* Watching – I am in love with Outlander. I was really unsure how I would like the televised version of one of my favorite books but from the opening song until the end of each episode I am completely hooked, so much so I don’t get up from the couch to complete chores off and on, as I usually like to do with the 1/2 hour to an hour of television I watch at night. I’m quite late to the party but I am also watching Silicone Valley and even if it’s sort of a dude-centric show, it makes me laugh more than once every single episode so I keep watching. I unabashedly love television and often think the perfect career for me would have been as a script writer who turns books into television series…maybe it’s not too late? In the meantime I’ll just concentrate on continuing to write…I’m really looking forward to the return of The Mindy Project.

* My in-laws keep insisting Evangeline needs music lessons and the earlier the better, but I am unsure. They push this because they are HUGE classical music buffs and raised two daughters who now actually make livings with their music. Sam, as he will openly tell you, was not blessed with similar talent and I am decidedly unmusical as well. Evangeline has expressed an intense interest in ballet and I feel much more inclined to honor that desire at the moment because (a.) it’s something she wants to do and (b.) her pre-school curriculum is a little-heavy on the sitting down and not so much on the playing, and I am eager to provide her outlets for her toddler physicality – there is a reason I’m currently pricing junior trampolines. I wish my reasoning was not accompanied by some inner bristling whenever they pointedly suggest music lessons, though – I don’t like this quality in myself.

* Writing – I am setting aside a dedicated writing spot for myself in our house, and it feels practically revolutionary. I haven’t had a dedicated writing space since I was in graduate school. Our condo in Novi was much too small so I wrote at a desk in our living room, and while I now have a house that borders on too-big, I could never figure out intuitively where my writing space should be. Before we had our children it didn’t matter all that much – I generally lugged my laptop to the kitchen island early in the morning to write – all the better to access the coffee pot. Since the kitchen has turned into the hub of our family activity it’s no longer a peaceful place to write, so I am in the process of setting up our ages-old desk in the guest room on the third floor. Our guest room’s electric leaves something to be desired so I have to put the desk against a wall near an outlet instead of by the window, like I had hoped, but hey! A real writing spot – it’s thrilling.

* Sam asked me this week if we should stop watching the Steelers because of the NFL’s handling of Ray Rice’s assault against his fiance and I surprised myself by saying no. I already worked through a lot of complicated emotions with the league after the concussion cover-up came to light, and while I am absolutely disgusted by the video of Ray Rice beating his fiance, I feel this was a failure of law enforcement as well as the NFL. In addition, domestic violence isn’t solely the domain of the NFL. It occurs in homes of all income levels across the country and around the world, and I have no doubt in my mind that organizations as well-established as the NFL cover up for their more violent members. I am outraged by this video but I am generally outraged by what women have to suffer the world over – I mean, entire governments and religions sometimes sanction violence against women. The Steelers do a ton of good in our community – I have seen first hand year after year the positive work they do in our hospitals, so I am not quitting on them because of this horrifying incident on another team.

*Hillary for President!

* Diet update – I only have three more days on phase I of the South Beach and I’ve stuck to it faithfully. The first week I lost 2.5 lbs – the book claims you can lose between 8 and 13 but I imagine that is for people with a slightly higher BMI? I am feeling very strong and confident about my choice of diets, and with the exception of one day where I really felt wonky, I feel great. I always feel better eating a lower carb diet and now that I won’t be getting pregnant again hopefully I can adopt this into a long-term lifestyle. When I was pregnant with Evangeline grilled cheese and eggs on toast were the food of the Gods – with Duncan I felt sick almost constantly but once I started nursing him I fell into waffles and cake with a vengeance (in my defense, he was born during a polar vortex and we weren’t allowed to leave the house!). We’ll see how I do as I enter the next phase!

Happy Throw Back Friday – I promise a more substantial post next week!

But I will not carry around a water bottle

My freshman year of college, my roommate and I lived down the hall from a group of girls relatively indistinguishable from one another, all sharing a common goal that A and I did not: the determination to pledge a sorority. To a t, these girls all had shiny, light brown hair and skin that seemed perpetually freckled and tan, and when they weren’t engaging in sorority-pledging activities they lived in athletic clothes and flip flops. They ate enormous bowls of of cereal, plate after plate of salad and endless servings of frozen yogurt and not much else. And they carried oversized water bottles everywhere they went. The water bottles were so ubiquitous, in fact, that in an unattractive fit of mean-girlness, I nicknamed them (very uncreatively) the water girls. This was before I knew some people choose to drink massive amounts to help control hunger and I just didn’t understand why a quarter gallon of water needed to accompany them wherever they went. Granted, they spent quite a bit of time at the gym, but still.

Are they really concerned about becoming dehydrated?” I asked A. “I mean, is that an actual, valid concern on their part?”

This is my roundabout way of telling you I’ve started a lifestyle changeoh hell let’s call it what it is, a diet. Definitely a lifestyle change but really, a diet. In this day and age we aren’t supposed to diet anymore – no – we are supposed to be accepting of all body types, or if not that, then we are supposed to at least make moderatechanges we can live with for the long-term, but really even then we should be all about body acceptance and liking ourselves the way we are, even as we watch obesity rates soar across our country, with all the attendant health problems that accompany being overweight.

The truth is, I’ve been a little overweight for a decade now. I’m not obese but I carry extra weight in my middle that has only grown worse since carrying Duncan. Oh, I fluctuate back and forth seven pounds or so, and I’ve hopped on and off weight watchers for years…sometimes I lose some weight but then I gain it back. Truly, I am fortunate I don’t gain back more,. I’ve remained in the same 7 pound range for a really long time now with the exception of my pregnancies, and I actually didn’t gain much with those – 24 pounds with Evangeline and 19 with Duncan. I am pretty decent at maintaining at this weight but I’m not happy with myself here and so I’ve made the commitment to follow through with the South Beach Diet.

I am tempted, here, to start telling a traditional fat narrative…to share with you how I started out, how I gained weight, and why I am seeking to change, but that wouldn’t be fair, or ultimately honest. I have a solid extra layer of chubbiness that I dislike, but I don’t wear plus size clothing – I wouldn’t be a contender for the Biggest Loser reality television show. I am motivated partially out of concern for my long-term health (my mantra right now is “better a voluntary diet now than a mandatory one later”), and more than partially out of setting a great example for my daughter (I don’t want to endlessly be dieting in front of her), but more than anything else I am motivated by vanity.

Yep, vanity. I am grateful – so terribly grateful – for my body and how well it treats me. I am extremely active with my kids, pretty flexible, and with the exception of some disturbing loss of core strength post-Duncan, I feel great. I’ve carried two babies to full-term, avoided c-sections, and nourished those children with breast milk. Working in a hospital setting, I value and say thanks for my great good health, every day. Truthfully, I feel as though my outside self doesn’t match my inside self – inside I feel no older than 27 most of the time. But I can see how quickly, in one’s late thirties, a little extra weight that wasn’t prohibitive before quickly spread, and I am going to at least try to halt it. I could say I’m doing it for my kids, or for my future grandchildren, or something like that, but that’s not really how I think. Honestly, I’m doing if for all the clothes I’ve pinned on my Pinterest board. I am doing it to participate in fashion, and I am doing it so my outside me matches my inside me.

I chose the South Beach Diet because it targets the area where I carry my weight – my middle – and because I believe growing up in a stringent, low-fat house is part of what put me over my target weight to begin with, but that’s another story for a different time. Admittedly, I’m only on my third day but I’ve noticed two things: first of all, between breakfast and lunch, I don’t grow hungry. At all. Overall I’m actually not hungry, but the hours between breakfast and lunch have always been particularly tricky for me. Secondly, I realize just how shoddy some of my eating habits have become. The other day I automatically went to eat a spoonful of Evangeline’s macaroni and cheese and then realized what I was doing – I did the same with her applesauce. Sometimes I pour myself a slug of her juice in the morning – can’t do that either. It’s only been three days but it has certainly been eye-opening!

Anyway, in the interest of this blog is really about anything and everything with absolutely no theme whatsoever, I thought I’d share this part of my life as well. I might try to update every couple of months or so on my progress, if the mood strikes.

Two things I promise you I won’t be doing? Carrying around half gallon bottles of water – I still don’t understand that habit unless you are pregnant or ill. The other thing: Two words: green smoothies. Nope. Just
– no.